The Best Season
Wintertime is gone, but not for good.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
I am going to miss the snow. What a treat it was to wake up Friday and look across the bay and see snow on Mount Toro. How cool to sit on the porch that night and watch the lightning across the water, and later to be awakened by a full-blown thunderstorm. What fun it was to drive up to Chews Ridge on Sunday and watch the kids play in the snow. Winter is awesome.
The seasons change. That is one of the basic facts, celebrated and also lamented in ancient sonnet and modern pop song. This week, winter ends. We begin to say goodbye to the big waves and the hypnotic sound of rain on the roof and to the numberless shades of green. Already the signs of spring are apparent. Sunday on Tassajara Road we spied a blue larkspur blooming above two inches of snow. Later, out on a trail beyond the Los Padres Dam, we saw more wildflowers—beargrass and shooting stars. The maples are beginning to bud out. Spring is on its way.
We welcome spring, of course. But let’s give winter some love too. I have lived in places where winter is dark and hard and cold and not without its own beauty. Its harshness forces people inside, and we generally find something valuable there. When spring arrives, the river ice melts and flows in crashing chunks. The snow melts and the hard ground thaws and the grey world gets its color back. There is euphoria in the warming air. In colder places it’s easy to appreciate spring’s arrival. Here we have to pay closer attention, but the change of seasons is still apparent, even if its effects are more subtle.
Winter is losing its power over the world. That’s a frightening fact
We are lucky this year to have had this long cold snap and this snowfall. It’s good to be reminded of nature’s power in the cycle of the seasons. We know that the earth is tipping sunward as it does its annual lap around our star. It’s good to be able to feel it in the air as we observe the changing light, the plants and birds, the longer days. It will be nice to see the snow melt as the flowers bloom, but I will miss the dark, the rain, the snow.
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Elsewhere the seasons are changing, but in a dangerous way. Winter itself is changing. It’s losing its power over the world. That’s a frightening fact.
Last year was the hottest year on record. We saw hurricanes, mudslides, floods and wildfires in record numbers. Mountain snow packs have continued to shrink in the Sierras and in the Rockies, in the Alps and the Carpathians and the Himalayas. Melting ice sheets are pushing polar bears to the brink of survival.
For years now, scientists at NASA and at the National Snow and Ice Data Center have tracked a stunning reduction in arctic sea ice. We have lost a sea of ice the size of Alaska. Austria’s biggest glacier is disappearing; there, and in Switzerland and Germany, ski races are being cancelled. Resorts are covering glaciers with sheets of sun-reflecting insulation to save them.
The failure of winter is causing havoc. In Canada, for instance, millions of acres of forests are dying. A beetle whose population has exploded as temperatures warm is turning the trees red, killing whole ecosystems. According to a story in the March 8 Washington Post, “Scientists fear the beetle will cross the Rocky Mountains and sweep across the northern continent into areas where it used to be killed by severe cold but where winters now are comparatively mild.”
So let’s hear it for winter. Let’s raise our glasses and our hearts in appreciation, in a toast and a prayer.
According to the governor’s office, California is the 12th largest source of global warming emissions in the world, exceeding most countries. If we and the rest of the world continue at this rate and winter fails, we will lose 90 percent of the Sierra snow pack and the sea level will rise 20 inches. And we will never again see snow on Mount Toro. The kids who were sledding up on Chews Ridge this weekend will tell their own children the story of the winter of ‘06, and those kids will not believe it.